What Foreign Countries and Workplace Culture Have In Common
One of the best things about foreign travel is the treasure we bring back with us. I'm not talking about hand-made souvenirs, or memory sticks full of photographs (although those are nice, too!). I’m talking about new insights and perspectives that change the way we think.
My most recent holiday is a perfect example. Seemingly out of nowhere, it brought me insight into work environments and the way teams work together. To be honest, it totally changed the way I relate to my coworkers...
First of all, I went to a country that doesn't see a lot of tourism. Second, I traveled as part of a group. As you can imagine, we didn't exactly blend into the landscape. The people were beautiful and welcoming, but they held strongly to their traditions. The fact that we were outsiders couldn't have been more obvious.
We blundered along at first, but as we started to learn about the culture around us, it felt like the world opened. We laughed with the locals, played games with the children, and even attended traditional tea ceremonies. The tea was a bit strange, to be honest—not my idea of a pleasant afternoon cup—but by sitting with the people and sharing in their customs, we gained an authentic glimpse into a different way of life.
After tea, some of the locals took us on a walking tour of the city, showing us things that we as tourists might otherwise never have seen. And the language barrier? It wasn't as as big an obstacle as I had imagined. Frankly, I was surprised by how much we could communicate, even if we didn't understand each other directly through words.
As I mentioned, all of this changed my view on the workplace—specifically the idea of "fitting in" to workplace cultures. I reflected on how our trip changed as soon as we opened up to the opinions, religions and local way of life. Our experience became so much more fulfilling as a result, and I found myself wondering: Is this something I can bring to my own workplace?
The truth is, we spend roughly a third of our lives working—and since the average professional changes jobs quite frequently, we spend a lot of time adapting to new workplace cultures or welcoming new people into our own. And as anyone who's been there will tell you, it isn't always easy. Sometimes you feel like a traveler in a foreign land, adjusting to new customs and attitudes.
So—is there a way to make it easier? I’m convinced the answer is yes.
I believe that seeking to understand others, and learn their values, allows us to knit together. It opens a world of opportunity and creates fresh perspectives. People may have different ways of doing things, sure, but we don't have to see this as an obstacle—we can see it as an asset. After all, in this day and age, the ability to adapt is one of the most valuable assets an organisation can have.
Isn't it easier to work in an environment where colleagues feel welcomed, where they can ask for help if needed, where new perspectives are always available? I certainly think so. Since I returned from that trip, and put my insights into action, my colleagues have opened up and shared new things with me. I've realised that I never have to go far to find new perspectives.
Remember—creating a more adaptable, friendly culture in the workplace doesn’t happen overnight. But if you work to understand the people around you, the outcome could be as rewarding as it was on my travels!
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